Cultural attitudes are one of the most important factors in determining whether women and girls have access to family planning. In some countries, there is a lack of good information about contraception and often a harmful abundance of misinformation. Many traditional cultures place a premium on large families and frequent childbearing. Restrictions on women’s rights, and notions that it is somehow wrong or immoral for women to plan their families, are serious barriers. Awareness campaigns can help change minds.
In India, the Population Foundation of India (PFI) has developed a multimedia “edutainment” serial called Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon (I, a woman, can achieve anything). The serial is designed to promote women’s empowerment through carefully crafted dramatic stories that highlight health and social issues. Family planning, reproductive health and rights, and gender equality are the recurring themes. The initiative is funded by DFID, with additional funding from UNFPA to adapt the serial for radio and an Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS). To date about 23 million people have watched Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon on television, and the IVRS has logged an overwhelming response. The serial also has a website, a dedicated YouTube channel where all episodes are uploaded, an active Twitter account and a Facebook presence.
In Burkina Faso, journalists are being enlisted to help raise awareness of family planning. The Press Caravan initiative is a joint project between UNFPA, the government and the media. In 2013, a Press Caravan toured six regions of the country, bringing journalists face to face with traditional and religious leaders as well as political and administrative authorities. The journalists acted as advocates and investigators, asking questions about family planning and exposing misconceptions. Thought leaders were given an opportunity to present themselves in the media as supporters of family planning. Television, radio, and newspapers carried stories from the caravan throughout the country.
In the Philippines, IPPF volunteers play an important role as community educators. They help to dispel dangerous myths: that condom use is linked to promiscuity among women and girls, that sexually transmitted infections are carried by mosquitos, that drinking bleach cures sexually transmitted diseases and that the oral contraceptive pill can lead to birth defects. Their efforts have led to a greater use of contraception and an increased client load for the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines (FPOP), the local IPPF Member Association. The volunteers are able to reach geographically isolated populations with information, services, counseling and contraception, and to make referrals to FPOP clinics.
In Niger, the Hewlett Foundation is using commercial marketing techniques to raise awareness and create demand for family planning. The project is implemented by Hope Consulting and will generate a sophisticated market segmentation of women based on their behaviors and preferences about family planning. The insights from the segmentation study will be incorporated into the Ministry of Health’s national family planning communications strategy. Hope Consulting is also collaborating with a local social marketing organization to incorporate the findings into the organization’s marketing plans.